Contractor, Architect Achieve Construction Continuity Amid COVID Challenges

When the leadership team at GES Sheet Metal got the news last year that they had been selected as the architectural siding contractor for a $30 million job, they knew the project would be a great addition to the company’s portfolio.

The GES Sheet Metal project team with DPR construction observes a close-up review by the architects. A section of the mock-up has been cut away to allow the design team to see the materials used inside the metal panel.

When the leadership team at GES Sheet Metal got the news last year that they had been selected as the architectural siding contractor for a $30 million job, they knew the project would be a great addition to the company’s portfolio. Now, roughly at the half-way point to completion, it’s clear the project has delivered some unexpected added value — COVID-19 credentials.

GES is not a subcontractor, but a full project partner. The Fontana, Calif.-based SMACNA firm is providing design assist and custom metal work for the new McGregor Computer Science Center at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif. Their crews have been working there amid COVID-19 challenges, health concerns, and state-imposed restrictions for more than two difficult months. However, this experience turned into an unexpected growth opportunity for the company. It has also become a test site, where GES has proven they can quickly adapt and find new ways to get the job done in this evolving pandemic.

“This project will be a great example of a tough design, a tough schedule, and a pandemic — a collection of circumstances that would normally result in a failure to launch,” said GES Vice President Johnny Reeves. “If we can stay focused on teamwork and partnerships, we really believe there is no problem too large to help solve.”

Reeves said the job site was closed briefly due to a shelter-in-place ordinance, but then opened when construction was deemed essential work. Even with that delay, a toilet paper crisis, and ongoing PPE and social distancing challenges, GES remains on schedule and within budget. Reeves credits this success to the GES employee team and their strong, lasting relationships with customers, architects, and general contractors.

“The partnership mentality that was established early on in the project has different goals now, but the confidence we have in each other to stay creative and solution-focused is proven,” he continued. “It’s these kinds of relationships that seem to keep this project moving forward amid an ever-changing terrain.”

A view of the secondary support system and integration of waterproofing and rigid insulation.

GES is highlighting their design assist formula and successful COVID-19 adaptations at Harvey Mudd as a way to differentiate their company from the competition. “The concept of minimizing our exposure has caused us to think about our fabrications and installations a little differently,” said Reeves. “Having two or more persons being six feet away from one another on the job site can create some issues that require creative problem solving. We have had to be flexible in our thought process while staying within the confines of the CDC requirements for general COVID safety.”

GES is finding their new installation strategies (including around-the-clock shifts) and modularizing fabrications in the shop have been so successful that the company may continue these practices as “just a better way to do it.”

While creativity and adaptability are always desirable characteristics in a contractor, most of the COVID-19 questions GES gets from prospective clients relates to material procurement and schedule impacts. GES has demonstrated its ability to successfully address these and other challenges presented by COVID-19. The Harvey Mudd project features a lot of metal, all of which was delivered on time.

The panel system, totaling 20,000 sq. ft., is a one-of-a-kind fabrication. The unique approach will ultimately save time because the custom panel system does not require third-party verification like name brand panel systems.

“The design concept is a series of custom-formed, brake shape panels set inside a modularized frame made from a custom-sized aluminum extrusion,” said Reeves. “The panels are formed into three different profile shapes and the installation of them into the frame is random to create the custom panel look. The concept seems to create a look of a metal curtain or window treatment between the otherwise glass dominated façade.”

Panels are formed from coil and a 21 ft. bifolding break into their final shape. The color is champagne metallic, designed to maximize the play of light to create lights and darks within the color (see images, page 4). The project also includes 3,000 square feet of aluminum plate accents around the panels, stairs, and ground floor of the building.

The Harvey Mudd project is scheduled to be completed in December, giving the GES team ‘on-time status” to add to their COVID credentials. They will also continue investing in the future by putting added time, energy, and effort into relationships. “These connections will take us to jobs two and three years from now,” Reeves said. “We’re taking the time to educate architects and show them how we can customize a project for them.”

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